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Black Twitter's Engagement with #Scandal

The final presentation for AoIR 2015 is by Dayna Chatman and Kevin Driscoll, whose focus is on the communities and modes of social TV engagement with specific television texts. Their focus here is especially also on "black Twitter", a particular subset of the US Twitter population that has emerged in recent years: black American users on Twitter have been identified as a distinct group.

But black Twitter is actually a discursive phenomenon that is driven predominantly but not exclusively by black users in the US. The existence of this black Twitter community was detected especially through Twitter's trending topics, whose underlying algorithms were by accident especially well suited to detect the themes emerging from black Twitter, while "white Twitter" topics were not as prominently features.

It is interesting then to explore how television engagement through social media intersects with this black Twitter community. The recent show Scandal is especially useful for this, as it was the first US show with a black woman in the starring role since 1974.

The project's approach is to use a methodology of "participant viewing", focussing on the premiere of season three of Scandal across the US in five-hour window. During the screening, the team added more and more relevant keywords to the Twitter tracker in order to gather a broad representation of the second-screen engagement; post hoc, relevant Instagram posts were also gathered.

This resulted in a dataset of several hundred tweets and participating users, and the team also subsequently explored the follower network of these users to identify pre-existing connections. Users were distinguished by their balance of incoming and outgoing tweets, with some celebrities and organisations being tweeted about very actively; some parasocial users tweeting out a blow-by-blow account of the show, diarising their viewing experience, or simply retweeting other messages actively; and Big Name Fans who are both receiving and sending tweets actively.

Live tweeting practices included countdowns to the screening, sharing images of themselves preparing for the show, and imploring their contacts to avoid any spoilers. Fan texts and images were also widely shared, discussing viewing practices and reactions. But a big part of fan activity is about live reactions to key plot developments – while non-fans are saying they're either logging off from Twitter temporarily or are disparaging it's committed viewers.

Some of this is about sharing one's interpretations, and making connections between the show's content and current political and societal issues. This essentially also provides a black public space, therefore.